How to Control Speed and Direction on Putts

By Sandy Retsky

Your putter is the most frequently used club in your bag. Putting is the easiest part of golf to master (the smallest swing) and has the most individual styles. Solid putters have "touch," which is an intimate understanding of judgment (a good read) and execution (a good putt). This comes from solid fundamentals and practice. Your goal is to say, "I controlled the speed and direction of that putt exactly as I wanted."

Instructions

Difficulty: Moderate
Step 1
Check your body setup. There are many putting body setups. Choose one that is comfortable. Here is a basic style: Align shoulders, chest, hips, knees and feet parallel to the target. Place your feet shoulder width apart, your weight evenly balanced on your feet. Position the ball in the middle of your stance.
Step 2
Check your grip. Choose a soft, firm, comfortable grip. In a full swing you grip for power, in a putt you grip for touch. Most common is the traditional grip (front hand forefinger on the fingers of the back hand, thumbs on flat part of handle, palms facing each other). Another choice is the cross-hand grip; it puts the front hand below the back hand and minimizes wrist movement. A less common choice is the split-hand grip, a gap (distance varies) between the hands: the front hand guides the putter, the back hand powers the putter. For short putts (less than 10 feet), choke up on your grip for better control.
Step 3
Check your club setup. At setup and impact, the palm of your back hand and putterface should be square to shot path, your hands even with the putter head.
Step 4
Check your mental setup. Visualize "the putt path." Believe "I will make this putt." This works when you have solid fundamentals.
Step 5
Check your stroke. There are two main choices: straight and arc. Straight (shoulders rock like a pendulum) is straight backstroke and straight forward stroke, eyes over ball. Arc (shoulders rotate minimally around spine) is a slightly inside backstroke and a slightly inside forward stroke, eyes inside ball, shaft flatter angle. Some golfers use the straight stroke for short putts and the arc stroke for longer putts. No wrist action and minimal body movement. Keep head still until finished with stroke (no peaking). Backstroke and follow through should be smooth, consistent, and the same length and speed. Hit center of the putterface (sweet spot) for solid contact.
Step 1
Practice on a putting green. Distinguish between putting practice for fundamentals (to improve your putting) and putting practice for warm-up (to get a feel for a course you are about to play). This is putting practice for warm-up. Practice yields the best results when you have a specific focus.
Step 2
Try this on a flat surface (to control speed), then on different non-flat surfaces (to control speed and direction). This gives you a feel for conditions (dry/wet, short/long grass, firm/soft, grass direction-- "grain," and wind) and then contours. Optimal putting speed both keeps the ball on line to hole the putt, and if the putt misses, goes just past the hole within a short range (on putts less than or equal to 10 feet: 12 inches past the hole; on putts greater than 10 feet: 18 inches past the hole). Remember, short putts never go in.
Step 3
Putt from 5, 10, 15 and 20 feet away from the hole (these are "makeable" putts). Put all putts (start with five) within the short range, then move to the next distance. If any putt is not in the short range, repeat putting at this distance.

Tips & Warnings

Try using a target that is smaller than the actual hole. Some courses have a hole on the putting green that is half size. If your course doesn't have one, try a quarter or a tee. Every course's greens are different and the same course's greens change based on conditions.
Try using a target that is smaller than the actual hole. Some courses have a hole on the putting green that is half size. If your course doesn't have one, try a quarter or a tee.
Every course's greens are different and the same course's greens change based on conditions.
Develop a solid fundamental putting stroke before you start putting for contours. Sometimes, the contours on practice greens are not representative of the contours on the actual course (practice greens flat, course greens not flat). It may be difficult to practice your judgment skills.
Develop a solid fundamental putting stroke before you start putting for contours.
Sometimes, the contours on practice greens are not representative of the contours on the actual course (practice greens flat, course greens not flat). It may be difficult to practice your judgment skills.

About The Author

Sandy Retsky caddied at Baltusrol in Springfield, NJ and owned a software consulting business in New York, NY. He is a partner at Reverie Winery in Napa Valley and Butterfly restaurant in San Francisco. He has been writing for golflink.com since early 2009.

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